Following cancellations in November, the women’s Audi FIS Ski World Cup speed season finally gets under way in Lake Louise (CAN) from 2-4 December, with two downhill races and a super-G.
In the downhill, the key question will be whether two of its finest practitioners can return to top form.
Sofia Goggia (ITA) was the dominant racer at the start of last season, winning four of the first five downhills, including both races at Lake Louise.
The Italian looked set for a historic season but a nasty crash in the Cortina super-G derailed her well-laid plans.
Goggia battled back from injury admirably to compete at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, where she claimed silver in the downhill, and gather enough points to seal the downhill crystal globe.
The question is whether the three-time World Cup downhill winner (2018, 2021, 2022), who has just turned 30, can find her absolute top gear again. Nevertheless, she will start as favourite on the Alberta piste.
Breezy Johnson (USA) faces similar doubts. The American was hot on Goggia’s heels last term, scoring second place in the first three races of the season, including both Lake Louise downhills.
But shocking injuries – an ACL and meniscus tear – put her out for the season, missing the Olympics, and threw her entire career in doubt.
She shared in an Instagram post that “these two injuries often mean people can’t walk, but not only did I walk, I skied.
“I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my parents… I also didn’t want to tell anyone for fear that they might judge me. I didn’t want to have to defend my actions any more than I already had to the doubts in my own head.”
Ski fans will be elated to see Johnson roaring around gates again – but can the 26-year-old recapture her trademark strength and speed?
The 2022 the overall World Cup holder Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) will not compete – she is concentrating on the technical disciplines for now – while Ester Ledecka (CZE), third in downhill last season, is recovering from injury and out until the new year.
All this uncertainty leaves the downhill wide open. Hoping to take advantage will be Corinne Suter (SUI), who finished second in the rankings last season and got gold in Beijing 2022; her countrywoman Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI), fresh from winning the GS in style in Killington; and the Austrians Mirjam Puchner and Ramona Siebenhofer.
World and Olympic champion Gut-Behrami ready for super-G
Reigning world and Olympic super-G gold medallist Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI) will approach the discipline full of confidence.
She looked at her powerful best while winning the GS in Killington last weekend, mastering a slope she’d previously struggled on, and the smooth Swiss usually steps things up a further notch in the speed events.
Expect a strong challenge from three Italian veterans. The 32-year-old Federica Brignone (ITA) is defending World Cup champion, winning in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Zauchensee and St. Moritz last season, and performing consistently throughout the calendar.
The 31-year-old Elena Curtoni (ITA) grabbed second place in the super-G standings last season, following a fine win in Cortina, and is always up for a battle.
And the brilliant Goggia will doubtless be in the mix too: she won the season-opening super-G at this venue last year – and was looking favourite for the discipline’s crystal globe too, until that crash in Cortina.
Also in with a great shot this weekend will be Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR), Romane Miradoli (FRA), Michelle Gisin (SUI) and Cornelia Huetter (AUT).